Big O had me hooked right from the start with some interesting ideas, and then failed to follow through. Or at least, it failed to go where I hoped it would. There are several conflicting ideas in here, and I would have liked the series a lot more if it had just picked one and done it well. No real spoilers here. I’m going to mostly talk about what I thought I was going to see.
Side note: I watched it cold. I didn’t know what it was about, who the characters were, or even what genre I was dealing with. Because it came through Netflix and I didn’t pick it myself, I didn’t even know what the box art looked like.
The story opened up with an interesting premise: It takes place in Paradigm City, a domed but othewise very Gotham-style city that seemed to be more or less isolated. Many years ago everyone in the city lost their memories all at once. Nobody knows why or how. They eventually put things back together and life is more or less normal now, but here you have an entire city that lost their identity and had to find themselves a new one. The implications are pretty astounding.
The story follows “Negotiator” Roger Smith as he takes various dangerous jobs. He looks a bit like Bruce Wayne, has a butler that looks a LOT like Alfred, and lives in a very gothic building that is not dissimilar to Wayne Manor. His first job has him recovering a one-of-a-kind android who looks like a young girl but is very strong, deadly, humorless, literal, and without emotion. Oh, and she has (I’m not kidding) a DVD-style disc tray built into her forehead.
Near the end of the first episode I noticed that it wasn’t going where I thought it was going. I was hooked by the amnesia idea, and I was anxious for the story to get back to it. I was still trying to get a handle on what sort of story this was when a huge robot started stomping around the city. I’m thinking, “Wow. This is a toughie. How is Roger Smith going to get rid of it? Talk it into going away?”
Then Roger shouts into his watch, “BIG O!” and a massive Robot comes out of the pavement right where he’s standing. He gets in, and the two robots punch each other for a while. They have trouble doing real damage to each other, but they give the surrounding city a real pounding.
So for me the series started out with this idea about mass amnesia, then forgot all about it and drove us right into anime cliche’ hell. We went from interesting sci-fi premise to Batman ripoff to Cliche Robot Girl to Mechas having a Godzilla-style brawl in the big city. This series is like frankenstein’s monster: There are a whole lot of seperate ideas crudely sewn together and animated without thought to what the consequences might be. As you might have guessed: The end result isn’t pretty.
Did I mention there is also a sexy woman who is so mysterious we don’t even know why we should care about her? Or the goofball religious iconography? Or the Joker-looking villian?
I stopped watching around disc 4 or so. Maybe the story got better, but it was already such a mess I didn’t want to hang around and find out.
Having said that, I still love the idea of an isolated city where everyone lost their memories, and where almost all other records were lost. What sort of effect would that have on they way people interact? What would their culture be like? How would they go about even choosing names for themselves? What would it be like if everyone had to choose their own name? If the online world is any indication, guys would be named stuff like, “DaReapaMan” and “Ph3arless”. Maybe they would name themselves after mythological creatures or heroes. It’s a very safe bet nobody would name themselves Roger Smith.
What do you do with all the money in the bank now that nobody knows who owns it, or even who owns the bank? How would people decide where to live? Would they roam the city, trying their key in every lock? What do you do with the people in prison now that you no longer know their crime or the length of their sentence?
But no: The whole memory loss thing is just a plot device used to explain why people don’t know about the mechas or where they came from. To me, this is a sloppy plot device. Everyone loosing their memories is a much bigger deal than giant robots. The mass amnesia, not the robots, would be the central story of the city.
Imagine how people would act in that moment when their memories go. You’re riding an elevator with a woman. You look at each other. Who is she? Your sister? Wife? Boss? Nemesis? Someone you’ve never met?
What if a woman found herself standing over the body of someone who was just shot to death, and she was holding a gun? Did she do it? Or was this a friend, who she was rushing to help? Perhaps the two of them were undercover cops together? Maybe they were lovers. Maybe one of them is a burgler.
What about the guy who is in prison? Now he’s forced to wonder what he did to get in here? Murder someone? Steal a car? Fight city hall?
I could go on like this forever. This premise generates an endless number of facinating situations that could lead to great stories. Unlike in Big O, where people just shrugged and muddled on, I think this event would have a huge significance to everyone. They would, at the very least, have a name for the day. It would be something simple, like “day zero”.
Roger Smith would be some sort of investigator, working a few years after this event. Each episode could have someone coming to him for help. As in, “I have this picture of a woman in my wallet and I wonder if she has a picture of me. Maybe we were married. Help me find her.”
His clients would tell their versions of Day Zero in flashback, and then Roger would go about trying to help them. Sometimes he’d learn things they didn’t want to know. Sometimes he wouldn’t be able to help them at all, and the mystery would remain.
Now the man has to decide what to do with himself, knowing what he used to be. Would he take Roger’s evidence to the authorities and turn himself in again? Kill himself? Would curiosity drive him to learn more about who he was, or perhaps try to become him again?
As the story progressed, we would learn more and more about the events before Day Zero. We’d get little glimpses of the pre-amnesia city and how it worked. There would be clues and dangers and occasionally there would be people who seemed not quite as lost as everyone else. There would be secrets and battles and eventually the end of the series would explain the events that led to Day Zero.
All of that would be a lot more exciting than the robot punching thing they have going.
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